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Real-World Math: Fulfillment and Facilities

Ask most people what person in a company uses math, and they will generally answer, “The accountant.” That is true, of course. Finance or accounting departments work with numbers and do calculations constantly to do payroll, pay bills, and balance the books. They are not the only ones in business to use math regularly in their jobs, however.

Accountants are not the only ones in business to use math regularly in their jobs.

In fact, every department in Demme Learning uses math, and it is not because we sell a math curriculum! I recently talked with Eric MacKay who has worked for the company for three years. Here is what he had to say about his daily work and math:

My job is officially Fulfillment and Facilities Manager. In a nutshell, I am responsible for making sure that every time a customer orders something from us, we have it in stock and we get them their order quickly and accurately. I’m also responsible for the building and vehicle maintenance and utilities. Between all of these functions, I use math A LOT!

Several of my regular tasks use a forecast, or prediction. We generate this forecast using mathematical formulas to predict the weekly sales of every item Demme Learning sells.

I use the forecast to determine when I should reorder inventory. I know the lead time, which is the length of time from when I order an item to when it is delivered to us, and I also compute a “safety stock level” (s) in case we sell more than expected or a delivery is late. Then, I compare the number we have in stock (n) with our forecasted sales during the lead time (f). If the difference is less than our safety stock level (n – f < s), I know that I need to reorder the item.

To determine the quantity that needs to be ordered, I consider the amount we expect to sell and the unit cost for different order sizes. The more units we can order, the lower the cost per unit we are charged.

I also use the forecast to help me decide the number of shippers that I will need to schedule to process orders. The forecast tells me how many packages we expect to ship. That factor multiplied by how fast I expect the shippers to pick, process and pack those orders determines how many shippers I will need.

Every day, I calculate how fast the shippers actually process orders, how many errors they made, and how quickly we were able to get orders to customers. These “metrics” help me evaluate how the Shipping Department is performing.

These are just a few of the ways that I use math every day to do my job.

I also spent over 25 years in the Navy. My favorite job was the Commanding Officer of a Navy Cargo Handling Battalion. There were 180 people in the unit, and our job was to load and unload ships. Most of the loads were either shipping containers, pallets of material, or vehicles. When we loaded or unloaded a ship, we had to make a plan to coordinate how fast the cranes could lift containers on or off the ship, how many trucks we would need to move material to or from the pier, how many forklift operators we would need to load or unload the trucks, and assign all of the people necessary to perform those tasks. Once the operation commenced, we would monitor the flow of material movement so that any bottlenecks could be identified and fixed.

Did you notice how many math skills Eric has used in his job at Demme Learning and in his service in the Navy? Here are only some of them:

• Equations
• Estimation
• Inequalities
• Multiplication
• Rates
• Subtraction

He also uses upper level concepts such as algebra, functions, probabilities, and creating and reading graphs. The next time we hear someone ask what good math is in the “real world,” let us remember to tell them about Eric and his work.

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